You have probably all read stories about someone who came to aid of another in a time of crisis only to be sued by the person they were trying to help. We read these stories and can’t believe the chutzpah of the one taking the action to court. Why would you try to punish someone for trying to do something good?
In Acts chapter three we read about an outstanding miracle. Peter and John were heading to the temple to take part in the evening prayer service when they stopped by a beggar, and by direction of the Lord, administered healing. He was walking, leaping, and praising God! In Acts 4 we find out that as a result of the miracle, Peter, John and perhaps even the man who had been healed found themselves in jail.
This straightforward story has some very important and perhaps surprising lessons for us.
Acts 4 picks up where Acts 3 leaves off.
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
The priests (the men who served at the temple) and the captain of the temple guard (the second most powerful man in Israel behind the High Priest–the temple guard was the group that arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) and the Sadducees (the politicians or theological liberals of the day) came and apparently listened to Peter and John as they spoke. Then, because they didn’t like what they were hearing, they had Peter and John arrested and put in jail over night.
After spending the night in jail, Peter and John were brought out for their arraignment,
5 The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Peter and John were brought before all the high-powered leaders in Jerusalem. They faced the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court), the very leaders that were responsible for condemning Jesus to death.
“Why were these people against the preaching of the Gospel? Why did the healing of a man cause such a stir? The more important question today is “Why do some people seem so antagonistic to the message of Christ today?”
First, let’s start with a negative. People are not hostile to Christianity because of their intelligence. Some “educated” people will proclaim that they “used to believe” but they have “grown out of that kind of thinking”. The implication is clear: if you were more intelligent you would not hold on to these primitive notions about sin, redemption and eternal life.
The problem with this argument is twofold. First, there are many intelligent people who do believe the Gospel. There are many professors, scholars, scientists, physicians, and philosophers who have come to faith since they received their education. One of the best examples would be the Oxford Professor, CS Lewis.
The second problem is that many uneducated people do not believe. If these people do not believe it shows that unbelief is not something you “come to” as you become smarter.
Second, people reject the gospel because they do not want to admit their own sin. As Peter spoke he insisted that the people accept responsibility for their actions. But no one likes admit they are wrong. We all want to believe that we are basically good people. We’d like to think that with enough education or opportunity we would be “good enough”. We all like to think of ourselves as better than average. The gospel requires that we admit that we are powerless to save ourselves. Most people resist such thinking. People hate the idea of a Suffering Savior who was executed in our place. Paul causes this the “offense of the cross”.
Third, People are hostile to the gospel because it upsets the balance of power. The Sadducees and priests were upset because these “Christians” were turning the heads of the people. They felt their power diminishing. The Christians were upsetting the status quo.
We have seen in our own time that when a person’s power is threatened (examples, Watergate and the Clinton scandals) people will lie, cover up and manipulate the system in order to keep hold of their power. Dictators around the world would rather execute their opponents than listen to them.
The same is true in our hearts. We do not want to submit to God’s authority. We want to call the shots. We want to determine what is right and wrong based on our personal preference, not God’s decree.
So, hostility to the gospel is not a matter of intelligence, it is a matter of the heart!
Peter and John could have easily been intimidated by this august gathering. However, they stood firm.
Certainly you have heard the various Internet stories of the soldiers who came into a church and said, “anyone who is not willing to die for their faith . . . leave now.” Most of the people leave. The offer is made again but no one leaves. At this point the doors are shut and the soldiers put down their guns and slip into a pew. They say to the Pastor, “OK, you my continue, all the false believers are gone.”
The reason the story is so powerful, is it forces us to address the question, “Would I have stayed or left with the majority?”
Rather than deny the faith, the apostle Peter saw this inquisition as a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel with some of the most powerful people in the world. He boldly proclaimed that Jesus is the Savior that had been promised by the prophets and that he was the ONLY way to Heaven.
The text tells us that “Peter, was filled with the Holy Spirit”. We read this phrase several times in Acts. It does not mean that the Holy Spirit comes and goes in our life. When we become a child of God, God’s Spirit takes up permanent residence in our heart and life. But we are given an increased and temporary measure of God’s Spirit to help us get through a crisis experience. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen.
18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [Matthew 10:18-20]
The contemporary church needs to heed an important warning. We (the church in general) seem to be working very hard to be “attractive” to the world. We want people to feel comfortable. We want folks to “enjoy” their experience. We want them to see the church as “the place to be.”
Understand that the church cannot be popular in the world without watering down the message of the gospel. To be popular we need to re-define sin, talk more about man’s inherent goodness, and avoid words like repentance, judgment and hell. And if we want to be popular we need to forget about verse 12.
Acts 4:12 is a verse that contemporary society especially hates.
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
This passage states the gospel in unequivocal terms. Salvation is found in “no one else” and there is “no other name”. These are called universal negatives. That means the statement allows for no exceptions. In an age of tolerance this is seen as a most intolerant statement.
A host of interrogating questions fly at us as soon as we affirm this Biblical declaration,
- What about those who are sincere?
- What about other religions?
- What about the people who live good lives?
- What about those who never have heard the gospel message?
- What about those who have turned away from the gospel because of a bad experience with other Christians? Can they really be held responsible?
These are valid questions that deserve an answer. But first, let me address the criticism that Christianity is narrow-minded and exclusive. It’s a silly charge, really. All truth is exclusive. If something is true, that which disagrees with it must be false. If the state trooper says you were traveling at 10 miles over the speed limit it excludes the idea that you were driving the speed limit. If the Doctor says your bone is broken, it excludes the possibility that it is not.
Second, you need to understand that all claims of truth (whether they are true or not) are exclusive. In other words, when the atheist says, ‘there is no God’ they are excluding all those who say there is a God. When a person says, “We must be tolerant of all faiths!” they are showing intolerance to those who believe there is only one right way. If the Mormons are right, then Christians are wrong. If Islam is right, then Christianity is wrong. The various religions affirm contradictory truths. They can both be wrong . . . but they can’t both be right. It is silly to be upset that a set of beliefs is exclusive or narrow-minded. . . that’s the nature of truth.
So what makes us believe Jesus is the only way to salvation? First, Jesus is the only way to salvation because He is the only one qualified to address our sin problem. We need someone who is human and can understand what we are dealing with. We need someone who faces the same kinds of temptations we do . . . yet, does not fall as we do. We need someone who is human, but without sin. They need to be without sin because I can’t pay for your sin because I can’t pay for my own sin. We need someone who doesn’t have a debt of His own to pay.
For this sacrifice for sin to be sufficient for those who would be saved we need someone who’s life was valuable enough to trade for the sins of the many. We need one who’s position was so significant that it was worth trading in exchange for millions of lives.
There are some ballplayers who will be traded in exchange for three or four other players. Why would you trade 3 or 4 for 1? It is because of the perceived talent of the one. We needed someone who was so valuable that He could be traded for many.
There is only one whose life is that valuable–Jesus. As God in human form He is the ruler of the universe. He is fully God. He alone could give His life as a ransom for many. We needed the God-Man on our side and only Jesus meets that requirement.
Second, Jesus is the only one to overcome the grave. Anyone can claim to be a Savior. Proving it is something else. Jesus rose from the grave, which is convincing evidence. His resurrection shows that He was who He said He was and did what He said He did.
Third, in view of the other two points, it is significant that Jesus said He is the only way. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man (there’s that universal negative) no man comes to the Father except by me.” In 1 Timothy 2:5 Paul said, “5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”
Basically, the message of salvation comes down to two different roads. The one road says we get to Heaven by doing the right stuff. The broad road says we are saved by being sincere or by doing enough good things. The other road says we can never do enough good to overcome our sinful natures. The narrow road says the only way of salvation is through the grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ. All religions boil down to these two alternatives. They cannot both be true.
“But isn’t it unfair for God to send people to hell who have never heard the gospel?” It must be pointed out that to say someone is going to Hell because they haven’t heard about the gospel is to beg the question. A person goes to Hell because of sin–not because they haven’t heard.
We need to remember that many who have “never heard” could have heard. They could have heard the gospel on the radio, through books, through missionaries and other preachers. If they were listening they would have seen God in nature and been drawn to Him. If they were listening, they may have heard God through the “still small voice” of God’s Spirit. Those who claim they “didn’t hear” the gospel may not have been listening. They are like the child who puts his hands over his ears and cries “La La La La!” Every time they don’t want to hear something.
Isn’t it Narrow Minded to Say Only Christians will go to Heaven? No. To say that only Christians are going to Heaven is merely to take the words of Jesus seriously. We are not saying Christians are better people than others. We are saying that the only way to salvation is the way that God has provided.
But what about the sincere unbeliever? Let me ask another question, “Will a person who sincerely believes they can fly be able to jump off a tall building and survive?” Not usually. If a person really believes that God told them to kill a bunch of people, does that mean that their heinous crime is OK. Of course not. Why? You can be sincere and be wrong. Sincerity, though a laudable trait, is not the measure of what is true.
But what about the non-Christian who lives a good life? This is what you hear about the Mormons all the time: “They are good people.” But the question we have to answer is: “Who defines a “good” life?” We may live a good life by worldly standards– but is it a good life by God’s standards?
- Is someone “good” who turns away from God’s way of salvation?
- Is someone “good” who insists that in spite of the teaching that there is “none that is good . . .no not one” they can earn their way to Heaven based on merit?
- Is someone “good” who turns their back on the authority of God’s Word? Are they good if they make God’s word subject to the writings of others (Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and many others)
- Is someone good if they refuse to bow the knee to the God of Scripture and instead worships Allah, Confucius, Buddha?
We must be careful when we talk about “good” people.
And what about those who turn away from Christ because of the people of the church? The simple answer is that God does not call us to the church, but to Christ. We can’t blame others for neglecting our own responsibility.
There are a few conclusions I want to draw today. First, we must recognize that the Christian message will never be popular. There may be times when thousands come to faith but there will always be those who oppose the message of salvation through Christ alone. We must accept this fact. Though we must continue to try to win these people to the Lord, we may not, and we must not water down the truth of the gospel.
Second, we must proclaim the truth in the confidence that God will give us the words to say and the strength to say it. Peter and John could have kept silent. They might have decided that they were not smart enough to talk to these leaders. But that’s not what they did. They decided to trust God. They saw and opportunity and trusted that since God opened the door He would equip them with the words. We should take a lesson from the disciples.
Finally, we must ask ourselves the all important question: Are you on the broad road or the narrow road? Are you trying to “save yourself” or are you trusting Christ alone to save you? Are you involved in the church because of your position or the people who sit near you, or are you attracted to Jesus, the one who lived, died, and rose again? If soldiers came into this sanctuary and said “abandon your faith or die, which would you choose?” The answer to these questions will indicate whether or not you are a believer.
Following Jesus may get you thrown in jail. But if you don’t follow Him, it is impossible to get into Heaven.